Harry Yamada and Louis Thorn work together as stunt pilots—close but competitive friends—until World War II upends their lives.
In 1943, an FBI agent named Bonner arrives in Newcastle, California. He's investigating Harry Yamada and his father, Kenichi, who've recently escaped from an internment camp for Japanese-Americans, and wants to know if they've returned to the farm they signed over at the war’s outbreak to their neighbor Louis Thorn, at the time Harry’s flying partner and now a flight instructor for the Air Corps. As Bonner questions 23-year-old Louis on his front porch, the two men are shocked to watch a plane fall out of the sky in a fiery crash. Inside are two bodies, one identifiable as Kenichi, the other charred beyond recognition but assumed to be Harry. Not long afterward, Ava Brooks, who has supposedly been helping Louis care for the Yamadas' orchard, turns up at the house. Soon the novel is moving back and forth in time, interspersing Bonner’s investigation of the crash with the evolving prewar love triangle of Louis, Harry, and Ada—who met in 1940 when the two young pilots joined Ada’s con-artist stepfather’s barnstorming troupe—as well as with the history of the multigenerational feud between the Yamadas, portrayed as upstanding, almost saintly immigrants, and the struggling, less sympathetic Thorns. Bonner’s growing obsession with the case and the mysterious sexual attention he enjoys from the young landlady of a Newcastle boardinghouse are two of the contrived threads with which Rindell (Three-Martini Lunch, 2016, etc.) eventually ties up the flimsy plot. While the Yamadas’ unfair treatment clearly alludes to today’s immigrant experience, what is more developed is the character study of Louis Thorn, who faces conflicted loyalties and complex moral choices.
Overlong and woodenly earnest, without the leavening wit of Rindell’s The Other Typist (2013), the novel does cohere in its attempt to plumb the complexities of love and hate.